GEORGE HUFF tells how the American Idol TV talent search catapulted him to international gospel music ministry.
Shortly after British TV catapulted Will Young and Gareth Gates to pop stardom, the American version of the TV talent search programme did a similar job in bringing instant fame to a number of singing talents. Amongst those catapulted by the American Idol TV series to the world of recording contracts, chart positions and TV guest appearances was a gospel singer from New Orleans, George Huff. And though he didn't win his soulful voice and effervescent personality made him a favourite in millions of American homes. Now George's debut full length album, 2005's 'Miracles', has received a belated release in the UK. George has always spoken openly about his Christian faith. He grew up in the Church. He told Christian Retailing magazine, "God just gave me this talent. I did my first solo in church when I was five and by age six I was receiving invitations to sing in churches, of almost every denomination, on a regular basis several times a week. It was a pretty safe bet that if I wasn't in school, I was in church for most of my young life."
George was plucked from the obscurity of local church appearances through 2003's American Idol TV series. He told journalist Andrea R Williams how he came to audition for the show. "The reason that I decided to audition for American Idol was because my money got funny and my change got strange - when I was in college. I was attending the University of Oklahoma and I had done everything I could do, but I was running out of funds. Before American Idol, I had auditioned for an opera company in college and landed a feature role in an opera. I auditioned for the part because I thought that it would bring about opportunity and money for school. Unfortunately or fortunately, that didn't happen. I had been applying for jobs I knew I was qualified for, had interviewed but didn't get them. It was a tough time. At that point, I prayed to the Lord and said, 'I know it's in your will that we prosper and be in good health. Right now, that's not happening. I know that I've come to this place for a reason. What is it that you're saying to me?' When I prayed that prayer, I had American Idol in mind - which was really far-fetched, but I was in survival mode. Even thinking of auditioning for American Idol was unfamiliar territory for me because I had been in the Church all my life. Also, I felt that I didn't have their requirements - that I didn't have the look. I talked to the Lord and he told me, 'Yes, I did say that it's in my will for you to prosper and be in good health, but I also said that the wealth of the wicked is laid up for the righteous.' He also reminded me that the Kingdom suffers violence and the violent take it by force. He continued to remind me that although I have an inheritance in Heaven - through the Lord's Prayer - I also have an inheritance here on earth. He reminded me of his word and we are to preach the Gospel to all nations. I knew that he wanted me to let people know that Christ lives and he died for our sins so that we might have a right to the tree of life. With those things in mind, I auditioned for American Idol. And I saw the hand of God move - from the first audition all the way to being in the top 32. Even when they sent me home, I had to exercise my faith and trust God to guide me. Then, American Idol called me back to the show. Initially Simon Cowell had said to me, 'You're a nice guy with a nice voice, but American Idol you're not. You don't have those star qualities.' But later on, only four weeks into the top 12, he said, 'George, I take back everything I said.' The Lord turned the situation around full circle."
There have been an extraordinary number of Christian entrants to American Idol and several, including Ruben Studdard and RJ Helton, have gone on to make CDs. Commented George, "There were so many Christians that auditioned, a whole bunch of them. Almost everyone who was on during our season had some kind of contact with the Lord. One person wasn't saved, but the other 11, we were all saved and accepted Christ as our personal Saviour. So the Lord is definitely doing something with it."
George had an extraordinary experience on American Idol, being dropped
then invited to return. He recalled the whole TV talent search roller
"It was like I was in Never Neverland. You know when you pray to God and he gives you the word, sometimes you may wonder if it's God talking. So the whole time as I was walking through that, I was looking for God. He kept saying, 'Trust me even the more.' He told me that he knew what my heart's desire was, but I had to trust him with my WHOLE heart. He said that the way and the understanding would be made clear. And then, I made it to the first round and I made it to the second round. I made it through five more rounds right before entering the top 32. Then, I was like, "Well, now I KNOW it's God!" But then, he pulled everything from under me; suddenly I was off the show. Then he said, 'Do you trust me NOW?' Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen. As long as I was passing auditions and as long as things were visible and tangible, it was all good. But for a moment when things weren't looking good, I lost hope - but only briefly.
"Ultimately, I decided to trust God again. I sold all my furniture except a futon, a couch and the boxes I came with and took the money to get a cell phone. Although I was no longer on the show, I called American Idol and give them my new cell number - just in case. I said to God, "I'm going to trust You like I know like I'm going somewhere and like I know You're about to make a way." Well, they called me back. At that point, I had been sitting home watching the show like everyone else for three weeks. The representative from American Idol called me and said, 'George, how bad do you want it?' I told him, 'I don't really have to win; I just want to be in the Mansion with the other contestants.' He said, 'You have two hours to get on a plane. We've already booked your flight.' I was back on the show. God did something miraculous for me."
When George finally left the show he was quickly signed to Word Records who rushed out an EP to catch the Christmas market. In retrospect George's readings of "Silent Night" and "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" weren't the best introduction to the CD buying public for the singer but at least 'My Christmas EP' kept the singer in the public eye. It was the release of 'Miracles' which established George in the gospel marketplace. It peaked at number eight in the US gospel charts. The singer spoke about his album: "I named it 'Miracles' because my life has been full of that. Since the time that I came to Oklahoma and all the American Idol experience - it's all been miraculous. Unfortunately, my dad was in a coma during that time, but now he's walking around and doing well. I've just been blessed with one miracle after another. I think because of that a lot of people will be able to relate to it. I believe that once you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour that God will start to reveal himself. Everything around you will have his thumbprint on it. The whole CD talks about my past experiences. Even the music that's on there, it's more meaningful now - especially to my family - in the light of what's happened. I believe that people who need hope and inspiration will find it in the CD."
'Miracles' features six songs co-written by Huff, including "Count On You" and "See What God Can Do", the latter pre-dating his Idol days. The song "arose from that time between college and the early stages of American Idol, when I was pretty much at my wits' end," he explained. "I was discouraged by the way things had gone in school, and I knew that Idol, and the music business in general, was such a long shot. But it dawned on me that if I was to have a chance at anything, I had to change my whole point of view from, 'What can George do?' to, 'Exercise the faith you were raised on and let go of having to control everything, and then see what God can do.' I did, and he was faithful to his promises."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.